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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  November 25, 2013 2:00am-3:01am PST

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. the fire broke out before dawn in the daylight they found this mother of two young children dead. >> she lived a very courageous life. she was very bold in the things she did. >> but after the smoke cleared, a mystery lingered. >> we knew she did not die after the fire, she died before the fire. >> who do you look to for the suspect? >> the first person you know. >> but her husband had a clear alibi, and he passed a lie detector test. eventually the case grew cold until this witness came forward,
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a tale of love and lust gone wrong. >> wrapped it around her neck. >> but could she be believed? >> i was sleeping around. i think i slept with half the town. >> was she out for justice or revenge? >> is it a perfect world? no. yes. >> he wasn't there! >> i'm lester holt. and this is "dateline." here's angela with "secrets and lies". >> on a frigid december morning on december 2008 in a tiny picturesque town on the banks of delaware a tragedy unfolded. >> 911. what's your emergency? >> the whole house is on fire. >> reporter: a deadly blaze burned a small country house to the ground and left behind in the ashes were secrets, love gone wrong, elicit affairs, friends turning against each
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other. it would take years town ravl the mystery of that fire haunting this town and those who loved the couple who once lived in that house, paul and catherine novak. the novaks had both grown up as city kids. paul was a new york city paramedic, a job that seemed the perfect fit. >> i wanted to be that person that would show up that would hemi parents and help my sister if she was in a car accident or something like that. >> reporter: but he also saw the dark side of city life, a little two close to home. >> i would do shootings and stabbings two blocks away from my apartment. >> reporter: in 2002, paul and his wife catherine went house hunting in narrowsburg, new york, a small hamlet in between the mountains. they didn't look wrong. >> it was the big red house, as she called it.
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>> reporter: catherine's brother michael and sister-in-law joanne said she worked hard to make the big red house a home. >> she was thrilled to have five acres, ten acres of property, and she loved it there. >> reporter: the perfect place for the perfectly matched couple. they seemed meant for each other right from the start. >> i liked her from the first moment i met her. she was very effervescent and very funny and very opinionated. i really liked that in her. >> so you really saw into the future the first time you saw her? >> yes. we ended up getting married, i think seven months later. >> two years after that their first child natalie was born. >> it was very special. >> reporter: catherine's mom christina was ever the proud grandmother. >> natalie looks so much like her mom. so much like her mom. >> what was it like the first time you laid eyes on your new daughter. >> natalie, well, it was like falling in love, like 1,000 times more than you ever have with any other person.
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natalie is just, you know, she's a part of me. >> reporter: four years later, along came nicholas. >> she was in her glory. and then to have a boy and a girl, which was good. >> things were all coming together. >> yep. >> she got directly engaged in the community, in the church she taught sunday school. she became a girl scout leader. on the school board, she did many, many things. >> reporter: and she did almost all of it by herself. paul was still working as a paramedic in new york city, more than 100 miles away. >> that's a big commitment. this is pretty far from the city. >> it's a two-hour drive. i was making it up here, the sacrifice was that i couldn't be home every night. >> reporter: and that, they soon discovered, can be tough on a marriage. >> we went to counseling for a year and she just felt that she never got a break, you know, from being a full-time mom. >> reporter: but they were both committed to making their marriage work. on their tenth wedding anniversary, valentine's day,
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paul surprised catherine with a ceremony to renew their wedding vows. >> i'm not a -- it was a big thing. i planned a little, you know, couple a day getaway and she was really taken by surprise by that. things were good for a couple months after that. >> reporter: it wasn't enough. the glow of that getaway faded and life became routine again. soon paul's eyes wandered to a much younger woman, someone from work. they had an affair and paul moved out, leaving catherine and the kids alone in the house. >> she was beside herself. she was absolutely hysterical. >> reporter: catherine's good friend and neighbor remembered when the marriage ended. >> she couldn't even get her breath. she was sobbing so hard. >> reporter: but catherine's family considered her the eternal optimist watching her move on with her life, putting all of her love and attention on her children. >> she was very focused on them.
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very engaged in their lives. did everything with her. >> sounds like that was important in her life anyway. >> uh-huh, absolutely. >> reporter: she was working at her children's school and had even been on a few dates. catherine was creating a life without paul. then in december 2008, sometime in the early morning hours, somewhere in her house, a fire started. >> the house totally on fire. it's on fire. >> when firefighters arrived, the big red house was a wall of flames. they had no idea if anyone was still inside. >> does anyone live there? >> yes, yes. there are kids. >> do you know if they're out of the house? >> i don't know. >> reporter: neighbors knew paul wasn't there. he was living in an amoupartmen three hours away with his new girlfriend. that morning he got a call from catherine's pastor. >> i picked it up and it was catherine phyllis. she goes, where are the kids, where are the kids? they're with me. what's going on. she goes, the house is on fire. >> reporter: firefighters worked for hours dousing the flames.
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when catherine's friend sue muller arrived, the fire was raging. she stood vigil for hours, waiting to hear news of her friend. >> all of a sudden the firemen were more concentrated in one area, looking down into the basement, and then the local funeral home was there with a body bag. i saw them bring the body bag down into the basement. >> reporter: in the destruction and muck of the basement, under massive pieces of what had been the house, firefighters found the remains of the family dog, and to their horror, the body of 41-year-old catherine novak. >> oh, no. oh, no. it can't be. i think it takes a while to grasp it. death is forever. >> what did you think when you heard that news? >> i was just a blank. a complete blank. what on earth am i going to tell these children? how am i going to tell them?
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she was a great mom. i didn't know how i was going to be able to even try to fill that void. >> reporter: the autopsy report said she was killed when heavy debris fell on her. catherine's death was officially ruled an accidental. >> she lived a courageous life. she was bold in the things she did. >> reporter: a tragic end to a life that held so much promise, but as you've probably guessed, the story didn't end there. for investigators, it was just the beginning. not everyone believed this was an accident. if it wasn't an accident, was it murder? it certainly didn't look that way until a second autopsy report came back. >> we knew she did not die in that fire. she died before the fire. >> he goes, why don't you take a polygraph test. ♪
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the remains of that old country house were still smoldering as investigators dug through the debris looking for clues. they wanted to know what caused the fire and exactly how catherine novak died there. her mother's question was more simple -- >> the biggest thing for me is why didn't she get out? that was what kept going over in my mind, why didn't she get out? >> reporter: even her estranged husband paul said he was puzzles? >> inty know what to think about it. i was susrrounded by death and violence by whole life and now it hit home.
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>> reporter: they ruled it an accident but investigators weren't so sure. they turned to district attorney to take a closer look. >> you were contacted despite this talk that it was an accident. >> oh, yes. we had a fire and we had a death. the question of how the two of those items were going to come together would not play out for a couple of days later and actually years later. >> reporter: the police, as they often do, began by interviewing catherine's soon to be ex-husband paul novak. >> what happened in the interview as far as the way they treated you, the questions they asked you? >> they were nice. they just asked me, you know, about kathy's last whereabouts, if i knew she had any boyfriends at the time, if she had been in the house, utilities in the house that may have had a problem, things like that. >> reporter: the interview was very routine but the investigation at the scene was not. fire inspectors couldn't figure out what ignited the blaze. they checked the wiring, the appliances, the pellet stove, theclusiveonclusive.
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but then things changed. the d.a. brought in a specialist, a forensic pathologist to the a second autopsy a few days later. and the results this time told a different story. >> we knew she did not die in that fire, she died before the fire. >> reporter: the second pathologist discovered there was no carbon monoxide in catherine's blood or soot in her lungs, which meant catherine had stopped breathing before the fire started. she changed the manner of death from accidental to pending investigation. >> the question is, what else can we gain or learn before we can start to classify this as a homicide? >> who do you look to as a suspect? >> the state police had done some initial interviews. obviously the spouse is the first person you looked to. the spouse had a clear alibi. >> reporter: paul and his new girlfriend was far from the beloved red house when the fire broke out. a three-hour drive away in their
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apartment on long island. still, investigators didn't just take the couple's word for it, they made a request. >> he goes, we want you to take a polygraph test. >> did you feel like you were almost on a tv show at that point? >> yes, it felt like "law and order," a bad episode of it. >> when did he get the results? >> a few minutes later and said, okay, you're done. you passed. >> he was driving home from the interrogation and he was hysterical. >> paul's sister had never heard him so emotional. >> he was crying and saying they asked me if i killed her and he just sounded so unbelievable that, you know, he was being asked these questions. >> reporter: so if it wasn't paul, investigators needed to look for other suspects. >> the state police did a complete canvas of the area. anybody who had any connection to catherine novak, the state police reviewed, found, interviewed. >> reporter: but after many months and no leads, investigators hit a dead end.
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the case turned cold. none of that mattered much to catherine's mom. >> i still miss my daughter the same. i miss her no matter what happened to her, i miss her. >> reporter: seven months after catherine's death, paul and his girlfriend packed up the kids and their apartment on long island and moved 1,000 miles south to florida. >> i figured with my experience that it would probably be pretty easy for me to get a job somewhere. >> kind of a fresh start? >> a fresh start. i thought it would be good for the kids, great school, nice neighborhood. >> reporter: but paul said not long after their move, things with michelle started to sour. when they first met, she was a paramedic in training. he was her teacher, her friend. she had confided in him about her history of mental illness, long bouts of depression, and alcohol abuse. but now he says her problems were beginning to take a toll on their relationship. his young daughter, a sore spot.
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>> she was very jealous of natalie and her mental issues definitely became more apparent as time went on. at one point she actually threatened to commit suicide inside my own house. >> reporter: this was no surprise alona and her mom who loved catherine but never approved of michelle. >> what are your first impressions of michelle? >> we didn't like her. >> why? >> she walked into my mother's house and she immediately wanted catherine's pictures turned around because she felt like catherine was looking at her. >> reporter: paul said it took him a bit longer than his family to realize he and michelle were not the best match. they had been together for three years when he found out she was cheating on him with a married man. >> she didn't want to stand for that so he asked her to leave. and he did it very nicely and she didn't want to go. >> reporter: in what paul described as a bitter breakup, he forced michelle to move out and told her it was over.
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by that time it had been more than two years since catherine's death. investigators back in new york had moved on to other cases. the years were ticking by with no new leads. but the d.a. was a patient man. >> we never put the file away. it was always a matter of when something is going to come forward, we'll be ready to go forward. >> we never accepted an accidental cause of death, ever. >> reporter: his patience would be rewarded. a break in this cold case was coming and it would surprise everyone. coming up, a surprise knock at paul novak's door. >> my girlfriend comes in and she goes, there's something fishy going on outside. there's two police detectives outside and they want to talk to you about a hit and
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. years had passed since catherine novak's body had been discovered among the blackened ruins of his big red house. but the passage of time didn't make it any easier for her mother. >> it's the thing that never happens to you, it always happens to someone else. it doesn't happen to you. you don't lose a child like that, such a horrible way, a fire. >> reporter: catherine's brother michael and his wife joanne had stopped asking questions, choosing instead to accept they might never know what really happened to her. >> to take catherine's perspective, she would look for
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the positive side, the good things, and she would want us to move on. and you know, that's what we tried to do. we made our peace with it. we went on living. >> reporter: but as time went by in the little town, dark suspicions were whispered from neighbor to neighbor. and one name kept coming up, catherine's estranged husband paul novak. her close friend, sue muller. >> i was angry as time went on and i thought more and more about it and i thought that paul might somehow be involved. >> reporter: as she looked back, she was particularly haunted by the way paul acted the day of catherine's memorial service. >> it's the whole congregation were sobbing so loud. i mean, pastor couldn't even finish her sermon. i went up to him and hugged him. i kind of was struck about how he showed no emotion. after 11 years of marriage, that she might have meant a little bit more to him, that he might
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shed a tear. but i didn't see any. >> reporter: but there was no evidence that paul had anything to do with catherine's death, no dna or fingerprints at the crime scene, no witnesses, he had even passed a polygraph test. but he had an alibi for the morning of the fire. he was three hours away with his girlfriend michelle in their apartment on long island. paul continued to enjoy his new life in florida with his two children, working again as a paramedic and now dating a new woman he had fallen for quickly on, kat dell grasso. >> we started texting and we made a date. and we went on a date. really, it was -- >> was it instant? >> instant. instant. >> what was the attraction? >> i don't know. it's really hard to put your finger on something like that. we just seemed to have an immediate connection. there was zero stress talking. no uncomfortableness. >> reporter: their romance
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blossomed and she eventually moved in with paul and his kids. >> do they look up to him? >> they worship him. they completely worship him. he's always up with them, checking homework. we do a lot of things as a family. >> is it a nice life? >> uh-huh. wire really happy. really, really happy. >> and then you get a knock at the door. >> yep. yeah, that was a tough day. >> reporter: it was an early morning in september 2012, four years after catherine's death. >> i was asleep. i was -- i just got off work. i worked 12 hours at the hospital. and i remember my girlfriend comes in and she goes, there's something fishy going on outside. two police detectives outside and they want to talk to you about your car being involved in a hit and run. >> reporter: but when he arrived at the police station he saw a familiar face and realized this had nothing to do with a car accident. >> this is investigator kelly from new york. so i'm like, okay. so he sits down and he grabs a chair and he's like a foot away
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from me. and then i remember him. he's the guy that grilled me, the one that got in my face. >> how are you feeling? oh, my gosh, these people are back in my life, four years later? >> at that point i still didn't know what they wanted from me. i knew this guy was celling at me. i looked at him and said i would like to speak to a lawyer. >> reporter: paul had already been interviewed by police several times. he thought this was all behind him. >> you knew it had to be about catherine. >> yeah, obviously, it had to do something about that. >> reporter: later that day the police went back to paul's house. >> and i went outside in the driveway with them and they said, we're sorry to have to break this to you but paul novak is under arrest. i said, for what? they said, for involvement in his wife's murder four years ago. >> reporter: what kat and paul didn't know is that a witness had come forward telling police an evil tale. and in that story, paul was the villain.
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>> they arrested you -- right there. >> did they put you in jail right then there? >> yes. >> the story the witness told was chilling. >> have a seat there. >> revealing dark secrets, but was it true? coming up, paul's alibi becomes his accuser. >> he was going to chloroform her and meet her and burn the house down around her and she was going to die in the fire. huh...fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance. mmmhmmm...everybody knows that. well, did you know that old macdonald was a really bad speller? your word is...cow. cow. cow. c...o...w... ...e...i...e...i...o. [buzzer] dangnabbit. geico. fifteen minutes could save you...well, you know. and can cost thousands of dollars to repair...
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catherine novak's death had been a cold case for more than three years when out of nowhere, a witness came forward, pointing a finger at catherine's estranged husband paul. so who was this mystery witness? a woman from paul's past, his
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ex-girlfriend michelle. >> michelle who was the defendant's alibi in 2008 has now come forward and said paul was not home and that paul went there and paul killed catherine. >> what was that phone call like? >> it was now time to get to work. >> reporter: jim farrell was now the district attorney. he team up with the former d.a. >> didn't it feel good that you had a break? >> it's a break but, again, i needed more information. >> reporter: investigators sat lefrance down to hear her story. >> let's start back in the beginning. >> during a six-hour interview michelle laid out what she claimed was the true story of how paul killed catherine. she said he started plotting weeks before the murder. >> he was researching things on the internet. he was going to chloroform her, burn the house down around her and she was going to die in the
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fire. >> reporter: michelle says one week before the fire she and paul went to catherine's house to move her things out and paul unlocked the basement doors. >> go up the next time we had the kids, which would be a week later, that way he can sneak in the house and she wouldn't know. >> reporter: according to michelle, paul wasn't with her on the night of the murder. that all lie was a lie. instead, she said he was with a fellow paramedic scott sherwood who drove paul to narrowsburg. >> as far as i know, scott was watching the car and paul walked down to the house. >> reporter: michelle said paul told her he went inside, set off the smoke alarm, hid downstairs, and when catherine came down to investigate he tried to knock her out the chloroform. >> it was supposed to be quick and painless and, you know, she was supposed to be passed out before she knew what happened. but i guess he put it over her mouth and it didn't work. she was screaming and begging
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for her life. >> reporter: through her tears, michelle spilled outgrew some details of what paul said were catherine's final words. she begged him to think of their children. >> and he told me that the only thing he said to her, the entire time that he was fighting with her, was, i'm doing this for the kids. and he said that she had been wearing a hooded sweatshirt and that he finally just took the sweatshirt and wrapped it around her neck and held it until she stopped breathing. >> reporter: then michelle claims paul took a blowtorch from the garage and set the kitchen curtains on fire. >> he waited for it to catch fire. and i don't know how long he -- i don't think he ever told me exactly how long he sat there and waited and watched. >> reporter: michelle's story was a stunning betrayal of her former boyfriend. and if it were true, paul had committed a vicious and calculated crime. michelle said paul told her he did it because catherine was a
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monster. >> he had me convinced that catherine was the bad guy and he was the good parent and these kids were abused and the kids were miserable. >> he did it for the kids. >> and we need to save the kids. >> reporter: paul's sister didn't believe a word of it from the moment she heard a witness had come forward, she was convinced her brother was being set up. >> i said, this is michelle. you got rid of her and now what happened. >> payback? >> i believe that's what it is. >> reporter: paul's girlfriend kat who got engaged to him in jail also believes michelle's story was suspicious. >> he's innocent. absolutely, positively. >> why are you so sure? >> he's just not that kind of a person. he's a caretaker. you know? it's like, his job is a paramedic. >> reporter: while paul had a a skreeky clean record, michelle, his accuser, had issues. a history of depression and
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alcohol abuse and she had waited years to come forward. >> michelle lefrance has been described as a scorned ex-girlfriend, a woman looking for revenge. did all that go through your minds? >> no, i don't believe that it did because after she leaves paul in january/february of 2011, it's 14 months to get up the courage to come forward to the police to tell the police what she knows, fully expecting that she's going to be arrested. >> reporter: as paul waited for his trial to start, he told us he wasn't worried. >> there's really nothing that puts you at that crime. >> no. >> no eyenesses. do you think that's going to work in your favor? >> i think it's going to go rather well for me. coming up, the prosecution is feeling confident, too. did someone leave digital tracks? >> state police did a search and toll records of that vehicle and
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we had a hit at 6:39. >> but what, if anything, does that prove? when "dateline" continues. [ female announcer ] we give you relief from your cold symptoms.
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not at all. >> any reason to kill your wife? >> no, no, absolutely not. i mean, i -- when i left catherine, i probably wasn't in love with her anymore, but i respected her and she was -- she is the mother of my children. >> reporter: for catherine's brother michael the upcoming trial felt like opening an old wound. >> part of me wished i didn't get that phone call because i knew how traumatic it would be to the family and especially how traumatic it would be to natalie and nicholas. >> reporter: catherine's mom also knew a trial would mean more heartache for her grandchildr grandchildren. >> i can only imagine how i feel as my child. i can't imagine how they would feel with now the loss of both parents, in essence. >> all rise. criminal court is in session. >> reporter: on august 12th, 2012, the trial of paul novak began. the district attorney opened the case. >> the evidence will show that as catherine begged and fought
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for her life, the defendant ended her life. murdering her in the basement of her own home. >> reporter: prosecutors set out to prove that paul orchestrated this murder down to the last detail. >> he was planning this for a period of weeks and maybe more in his own mind, of how to rid himself of catherine. >> he's a murderer. he's a sociopath. he planned, he executed, and he killed catherine novak in cold blood. >> reporter: their star witness was paul's ex-lover michelle lefrance. the jury heard every minute of those police interrogation tapes of michelle describing the details of how he killed his wife. >> he told me that they were fighting and they were rolling around the basement stair -- floor for like 45 minutes.
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and that she was screaming and begging him for her life. >> reporter: and the jury didn't have to just take her word for it, prosecutors called scott sherwood, paul's partner from work to the stand. they told the jury he had been interrogated by police and showed them the tape. >> let's go from the beginning. you meet paul where? >> i met paul at his house in glen cove. >> reporter: jurors heard him tell police his version of what happened the night of the murder. >> so he gets in your red blazer. who is driving, you or him? >> i was driving. we were driving up towards where his residence was, where catherine still lived. >> reporter: sherwood said paul told him to park a mile away from catherine's house and wait in the car. >> about how long was he gone from the car? >> over an hour. >> and what does he say when he gets in the car? >> he said, it's done. he had said that the chloroform didn't work. i had to strangle her. and something about hitting the
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gas line to ignite -- >> so you knew the house was on fire? >> yes. >> reporter: as scott sherwood's story played in the courtroom the prosecutors pointed out how remarkably similar it was to michelle lefrance's. >> did he say where he strangled her? where in the house? >> in the basement. >> reporter: prosecutors felt these matching stories were powerful but didn't think they would be enough to get a convection. they wanted physical evidence to prove michelle and scott were telling the truth. they began with sherwood's account of the drive up to narrowsburg. sherwood had told investigators paul asked him to stop at a walmart. >> when you get into the middle town area he said, you stopped where? >> at a walmart. >> and he went inside? >> he went inside. >> you waited outside? >> waited outside. >> and then he came out with a bag? >> yes. >> do you know what he bought? >> i believe duct tape. >> reporter: prosecutors showed jurors what investigators found when they visited that walmart. >> the state police found a receipt, only one receipt out of
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30 registers that had three things on it, duct tape, a hat, and gloves. scott sherwood told us that he used tape to tape up the scrub, hat, and he had gloves on when he went and copy back from the house. >> reporter: and there was more physical evidence to back up sherwood's account. he told police he and paul crossed the george washington bridge on their way back to paul's place the morning of the murder. >> was it a toll you guys went through? >> i would assume so. i guess it was the lower level but there was no -- there was no attenda attendant. >> reporter: no attendant saw them pass but detectives wondered, could digital eyes help place the car at the toll boot. >> state police did the search for the ez-pass records or toll records at that vehicle and we had a hit of 6:39 of that vehicle coming across the george washington bridge lower level. >> that's huge. >> it was a highly piece of
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evidence. >> what's more, there was a photo snapped of the license plate. it was evidence that almost didn't exist. prosecutors said paul had planned to pay cash that night but construction at the toll booth forced him to drive through the ez-pass lane. >> he couldn't have anticipated that the bridge would be under construction and no toll takers. >> reporter: and then prosecutors presented a what they thought would be any smudge of doubt from the case, a third person who linked paul to the murder, elise hamlin, scott sherwood's wife. on the stand she recalled a conversation with paul where he told her that he committed to murder and that he did it alone. >> scott had nothing to do with it. no way scott is going to get in trouble. >> he told her, i went up there with him me drove. i went in. y everything. >> three people, three different room, they're telling us the same thing. you may not be able to say we have a fingerprint, dna, but
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that's pretty damning evidence. >> reporter: the last piece that the prosecute needed was motive. why would paul want to kill his wife catherine. simple, money. when catherine died, paul cashed in on her life insurance policy and homeowner's insurance. it all totaled around $700,000. >> the defendant said he would kill catherine and burn up the evidence, and he did just that. >> reporter: now it was the defense's turn to attack. jurors would hear more about the checkered past of the witnesses at the very heart of the case. coming up, and what a very checkered past some of those witnesses had. >> i was sleeping around. i think i slept with half the town.
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it was the defense's turn. paul novak would not take the stand to proclaim his innocence. >> my decision not to testify. >> reporter: instead, his defense attorney gary greenwall did the talking. >> i'm going to tell you you're going to have reasonable doubt. >> reporter: his argument, don't believe everything you hear. consider the source, consider the mental states of the key witnesses, consider their possible motives. he started by attacking paul's ex-girlfriend michelle lafrance, the woman paul had thrown out of his house. >> she was a liar. she was manipulative, willing to take whatever steps necessary to hurt paul. >> reporter: the defense tried to portray her as unstable, offering evidence of everything from suicide attempts to a bizarre drunken incident involving the police.
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>> it took six officers to take me down. i apparently had to be handcuffed to a tree. topless. i had bruises from fighting -- from fighting the tree. >> reporter: the defense attacked her credibility and used her own words to portray her as a liar who carried on a string of affairs with married men. >> i was sleeping around in mattituck. i think i slept with half the town. >> she was probably one of the most people who had ever testified in court. >> reporter: scott sherwood suffered from serious mental health issues. >> scott sherwood from the time he was 8 years old buzz being treated for major psychiatric problems. one of the crucial pieces of evidence was his psychologist who testified that when he was put into a conflict situation, would say whatever was necessary to get out. >> i think who some people are going to have a hard time wrapping their head around is why three separate people would
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all lie. >> the reality is, i take eliesse of the of the picture because she lied to support her husband. scott had a psychiatric problem and he was manipulated in my opinion michelle. michelle was a woman scorned. >> reporter: the defense argued their stories were tainted because michelle had been given full immunity when she agreed to testify against paul and sherwood made a plea deal for a reduced charge and a sentence of three to 12 years in prison. defense went after the evidence that seemed to support sherwood's story, specifically that photo of sherwood's license plate taken the morning of the murder. >> one piece of evidence that seemed pretty damning is the ez-pass record that showed scott sherwood's suv crossing the george washington bridge at can t. right time for this crime. >> the answer to that is very simple, it proves nothing. there's a picture of the license plate. there's no picture of who is in the vehicle. how do you know as we're sitting here now that scott sherwood or possibly michelle were not in
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that vehicle? the answer is, you don't. >> reporter: and greenwall dismissed that receipt from the walmart in middletown. is it just a coincidence that someone went into walmart around 1:30 in the morning, the morning of catherine's death and bought a hat, gloves, and duct tape, all the things that were supposedly used in her murder? >> okay. first of all, mr. sherwood admitted under oath to me that he got to middletown at 12:00. he never could have been there at 1:30 or so because he was out by 12:15. >> reporter: still, dlfs there n age-old motive, money, to explain away. in our interview paul himself had an answer for that. are you having any financial issues at this point? >> actually, at that point i was in a much better financial situation than i had been previously because i had ended up getting a second job at a hospital in queens which was very high paying. >> reporter: then greenwall
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called what he said was his most crucial witness. they wanted to use him to untds mine a key part of the prosecution's case. remember, scott sherwood said that after the murder he and paul drove home to paul's house. >> did you go straight to paul's house when you came back? >> yes. >> reporter: but on the stand, paul's landlord disputed that. he said he had been outside setting up for a photo shoot starting in the early morning and didn't lay eyes on either of them. >> how could the man be out there and never see scott sherwood or paul? you're going one way. it didn't happen. >> reporter: the landlord's testimony was proof, the lawyer argued, that scoot sherwood had made up his story. the defense closed its case claiming the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that paul was a killer. >> paul novak is not guilty. and we ask you to find that. >> reporter: after seven weeks the jury finally began to
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deliberate, going into the trial paul was certain they would find him not guilty. >> your life is on the line. >> yes, my life is on the line. but i think the truth will come out in the end and hopefully -- hopefully those 12 people will know the true story. >> reporter: his fiance kat told us before the verdict she will stick by him no matter what. >> i believe in him. >> have you thought about your wedding and where it will be, when it will happen? >> i actually already bought my dress. >> reporter: kat's future and so many others would be determined by what the jury decided. for catherine's family, the waiting was the hardest part. >> i truthfully did not know what it was going to be. no matter which way you went with it, it was emotional. no winners. >> reporter: almost five years after catherine novak's murder, so many secret, lies, and betrayals had been revealed. so many questions raised.
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would the jury believe paul's ex-lover and his ex-partner was all a ruthless killer or had he been set up? it took two days of deliberations. on the third day they had made a decision. the verdict was? >> how do you find in the case of the state of new york versus paul novaks to count i murder in the first degree? >> guilty. >> reporter: guilty, convicted of first degree murder. paul showed only a slight head shake as he was convicted of all choornlgs against him, including insurance fraud, grand larceny, and arson. >> how are you feeling right now? >> not very good. >> reporter: paul now faces life in prison. he will be sentenced later this year. his lawyers said he will appeal. but michelle, who knew about the murder plan from the beginning, walked away a free woman. >> a lot of people will be angry and think this woman knew about a murder that was going to happen and didn't do anything. >> i can think of hundreds of
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people, thousands of people who know about a crime and don't come forward and say a word. >> it us didn't make it okay. >> is it a perfect world? no. will she get hers? yes. when she dies. >> reporter: the future for the children will be decided by the people who love them most, paul and catherine's families. >> we will work to get to those kids what catherine wanted for them. >> reporter: up in narrowsburg where catherine novak's beloved red house once stood, the trees glow orange and gold. five autumns have come and gone. her mother still mourns the daughter she lost but remembers the life she lived. what do you miss most about her? >> her smile and her hugs. she was a lot of fun, catherine. she enjoyed life. that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us.
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. i just heard a bang. >> that's when i screamed. >> no way i'm going to survive this. >> longest 40 seconds of my life. >> the plane just kept getting closer and closer. they're coming at each other like magnets. >> all i see is this big fireball. >> you heard the pilot yelling. >> that's what i have the most nightmares about is his screams. >> we have a report of a possible airplane crash. >> half the people i knew just went down with the plane. >> we lost everything. >> i think i'm just assuming
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that everybody's dead. because really, who survives that? >> you're excited for one miracle. you got 11 plus. >> i'm lester holt and this is ""dateline."" tonight a story you have to see to believe. two planes packed with skydivers collide in mid-air. what happened next was all caught on helmet cams worn by five of the skydivers. tonight the video you haven't seen, the stories you haven't heard. here's matt lauer with "miracle on the sunset dive" . >> it happened in the sky over a middle american landscape dotted with small towns, tall forests and red barns. happened by the waters of the continent's largest lake. above superior, wisconsin and neighboring duluth, minnesota, where winter is closing in fast. and where two small planes closed in even faster.
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>> the were terrifying seconds frozen in time for those who lived through them. the entire disaster was captured on video. and the survivors themselves still can't believe it happened. >> i'm looking at you, and i know you've seen that several times but your jaw is hanging open. >> yeah. >> to amy olsen and her fiance chad ebling it was just another chance to share their passion for a sport that literally brought they are love. >> how did you two meet? >> skydiving. >> so skydiving plays a major role in this relationship. >> very, very, yeah. >>


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